Sehnsucht - Wüste [Cold Spring Records - 2010]When Maniac (of pioneering Norwegian Black Metallers Mayhem), started to find some of his written work didn’t fit into his current, darker, doomier band, Skitliv, he decided to form a side project, originally to be called ‘Nova Express’, with Skitliv guitarist Ingvar Magnusson, and fiancé (now wife) Vivian Slaughter (from the Japanese, all-girl crust metal band, Gallhammer). The aim was to find a way of accompanying this perhaps more cerebral work by knocking back the tried and trusted metallic manoeuvres and incorporating more esoteric elements culled from field recordings and electronics. Appropriately enough, Andrew Liles (Nurse With Wound, Current 93) was later officially inducted into the project (now bearing the more emotive name of Sehnsucht), while on mixing and mastering duties for Skitliv’s 2009 ‘Skandinavisk Misantropi’ album.
The result feels like a phantasmagorical road trip through Maniac’s mind as he narrates dramatic passages seemingly filled with a morose but vividly identifiable contempt for modern life where “all that matters is consumerism, capitalism, nothing else…”. The journey begins with a deceptively subtle atmosphere of gliding glassy tones and hissing air to welcome the listener aboard before opener ‘Sult’ (‘Hunger’) explodes suddenly with the peppy power chords of a buzzing riff as wailing and feedback writhe around each other, relentlessly morphing like the many successive climactic mutations of a multi-tentacled anime character.
But this is the closest we get to metal motifs across Wüste’s fifty-or-so minutes. Indeed many of the tracks feel like a kind of warped beat poetry recital, but accompanied by sedimental psychic discharge instead of cool, hep jazz. Tracks like the charmingly titled ‘Cunt Queen’, ‘Tarn of Guilt’, or the epic ‘Hanging in English Gardens’ place Maniac’s stream of consciousness in a central, albeit heavily treated, position around which revolves more wailing and whispering, often of the same lines, while a scree of distorted digital detritus and anaemic, buzzing guitar fail to suppress the unhealthy thoughts.
At times Maniac’s meter is reminiscent of David Tibet’s spoken song style. Unsurprisingly, Current 93 are significant influences to Maniac (he’s even wearing one of their t-shirts in his and Slaughter’s recent wedding photos!) and Wüste incorporates their ’The Carnival Is Dead and Gone’ (from the 1996 album ‘All the Pretty Little Horses’) at the end of ‘Hanging in English Gardens’ as well as offering a bleak, noisy cover version of ‘Good Morning Great Moloch’ midway through. Curiously enough, the other cover version on the album is of a Dwight Yoakam song (‘South of Cincinnati’) that, while shorn of its honky tonk slide guitar twang, is played in a fairly straight country rock manner, briefly providing rest from the ructions, coming on like a whiskey-soaked waltz from a bar in a frontier town.
And this variety is what makes Wüste such a trip – although metal remains an occasional touchstone, we are treated to many unexpected episodes ranging from the title track’s surprise combination of Magnusson’s doomy guitar with Slaughter’s Ayler-esque sax skronk to ‘Tokyo Daymare’s glitchy drum machine (pretty much the only semi-regular percussion throughout) that guides the listener along the Japanese city’s busy environs. Liles’ sound design and ever-resplendent production glue it all firmly together as an intoxicating tour of the psyche, both eerie and unnerving, entertaining and unpredictable.Russell Cuzner